A roof garden is a garden on the roof of a building. Besides the decorative benefit, roof plantings may provide food, temperature control, hydrological benefits, architectural enhancement, habitats or corridors for wildlife, recreational opportunities, and in large scale it may even have ecological benefits. The practice of cultivating food on the rooftop of buildings is sometimes referred to as rooftop farming. Rooftop farming is usually done using green roof, hydroponics, aeroponics or air-dynaponics systems or container gardens.
Humans have grown plants atop structures since the ziggurats of ancient Mesopotamia (4th millennium BC–600 BC) had plantings of trees and shrubs on aboveground terraces. An example in Roman times was the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii, which had an elevated terrace where plants were grown. A roof garden has also been discovered around an audience hall in Roman-Byzantine Caesarea. The medieval Egyptian city of Fustat had a number of high-rise buildings that Nasir Khusraw in the early 11th century described as rising up to 14 stories, with roof gardens on the top story complete with ox-drawn water wheels for irrigating them.
Roof gardens are most often found in urban environments. Plants have the ability to reduce the overall heat absorption of the building which then reduces energy consumption. “The primary cause of heat build-up in cities is insolation, the absorption of solar radiation by roads and buildings in the city and the storage of this heat in the building material and its subsequent re-radiation. Plant surfaces however, as a result of transpiration, do not rise more than 4–5 °C (7–9 °F) above the ambient and are sometimes cooler.” This then translates into a cooling of the environment between 3.6–11.3 °C (6.5–20.3 °F), depending on the area on earth (in hotter areas, the environmental temperature will cool more). The study was performed by the University of Cardiff.
A study at the National Research Council of Canada showed the differences between roofs with gardens and roofs without gardens against temperature. The study shows temperature effects on different layers of each roof at different times of the day. Roof gardens are obviously very beneficial in reducing the effects of temperature against roofs without gardens. “If widely adopted, rooftop gardens could reduce the urban heat island, which would decrease smog episodes, problems associated with heat stress and further lower energy consumption.
Aside from rooftop gardens providing resistance to thermal radiation, rooftop gardens are also beneficial in reducing rain run off. A roof garden can delay run off; reduce the rate and volume of run off. “As cities grow, permeable substrates are replaced by impervious structures such as buildings and paved roads. Storm water run-off and combined sewage overflow events are now major problems for many cities in North America. A key solution is to reduce peak flow by delaying (e.g., control flow drain on roofs) or retaining run-off (e.g., rain detention basins). Rooftop gardens can delay peak flow and retain the run-off for later use by the plants.